Nagano Ski Resorts: The Ultimate Winter Escape


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  • Nagano Ski Resorts: The Ultimate Winter Escape



Every winter, cold air masses from Siberia travel across the Pacific Ocean to Japan and bring a massive volume of snow to the northeastern regions. ‘Japow’ has now become a household name among snowsports enthusiasts all over the world, attracting thousands of skiers and snowboarders to Japan looking to get a taste of that pow. And they don’t have to look very far – just a few hours away from Tokyo are the winter wonderlands of Nagano ski resorts, where mountainous terrains and high elevations work together to create some of Japan’s most exceptional skiing and snowboarding opportunities. Read on to find out more about these ski areas and why Nagano ski resorts could be the perfect winter destination for you.




240km northwest of Tokyo lies Nagano, Japan’s fourth largest prefecture. A historic trade, travel and cultural hub, Nagano remains a major urban centre in current times. But what captivates people about Nagano extends further than its modernisation – whether you are interested in outdoor activities, cultural exploration, or simply enjoying the tranquillity of the mountains, Nagano has something to offer.

Endearingly nicknamed the Roof of Japan, Nagano is home to the Japanese Alps and 20 out of Japan’s 33 peaks over 2,500m. It is therefore natural that mountain-related sports take the reign in Nagano. In the summer, the prefecture is the hiking mecca with world-class trekking and hiking trails on top of its mesmerising alpine landscape. In the winter, ski resorts all across the prefecture draw in a massive number of skiers and snowboarders chasing after the amazing pow. Whilst many have long been favoured by domestic riders, it wasn’t until 1998 that Nagano ski resorts gained global recognition with the Winter Olympics, and its legacy continues even today with more than 80 ski areas dotted around the prefecture’s mountain ranges. That being said, most of Nagano ski resorts are in northern and central areas of the prefecture to take the most advantage out of the regional topography and climate.

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Nagano’s diverse offerings make it a fantastic destination for travellers looking to experience multiple facets of Japan beyond the famed powder snow. From serene mountain scenery to bustling nightlife, from cosy local izakayas to high-end dining, Nagano ski resorts have it all. Here are 10 reasons we believe you should check out Nagano ski resorts on your next winter trip to Japan.

1. Snow quantity and quality

Nestled in the grand mountain ranges, Nagano ski resorts get 8-10m of annual snowfall on average, making them some of the snowiest areas in Japan. Resorts at high elevations like Hakuba can accumulate over 12m of snow in a good season!

Abundant snowfall, combined with consistently low temperature and high altitudes, result in excellent snow conditions at Nagano ski resorts – light, dry, and powdery. Since gaining worldwide fame in 1998, the powder meccas of Hakuba, Shiga Kogen, Madarao Kogen, and the likes have been a huge draw for powderhounds, including big names like Steve Lee, Terje Haakonsen, Travis Rice, Justine Dufour-Lapointe, and Matilde Gremaud. 

While Nagano ski resorts generally enjoy bountiful powder, weather conditions vary from year to year so it’s essential to check the weather forecast before planning your trip. Peak winter months of January and February are when the conditions are typically at their best and our Japan ski season guide can help you decide when to book your ski holiday.

2. Terrain

Besides the abundant snowfall, thanks to Nagano’s rugged interior, Nagano ski resorts feature an extensive range of terrains for skiers and snowboarders of all levels, with Hakuba taking the crown for the most diverse landscape.

Spanning over 25km of the Northern Japan Alps and comprising 10 ski areas, Hakuba is Nagano’s biggest ski resort. Long runs are common and can be found at various parts of the resort – Happo-One boasts a 8km run from top to bottom while the neighbouring Hakuba47 is home to a 6.4km ski course. Beginners and intermediate riders will enjoy learning and honing their skills on the vast gentle slopes of Sanosaka and Tsugaike whereas more advanced skiers and snowboarders will absolutely love the steep upper sections of Happo-One and Cortina. Check out our Hakuba ski maps for a comprehensive look on the on-piste terrain available in Hakuba.

For expert riders chasing the bottomless pow, off-piste riding in Hakuba is, simply put, a dream come true. The high altitude also gives rise to steep and deep pitches, and you can find an vast array of terrain options in Hakuba, from open bowls with big powder lines to gullies and natural half-pipes or tree-lined glades. The backcountry terrain in Hakuba is so impressive that it was added to the Freeride World Tour series – Asia’s first and so far, only resort on the list.

Make sure that you are adequately trained, have the right equipment, and check the avalanche risks before heading out to the backcountry. Nagano ski resorts have strict rules on backcountry access so be sure to follow the local regulations. If you are unfamiliar with the area, booking an off-piste guide is highly recommended to ensure your safety.

3. Favourable weather

Nagano ski resorts don’t only have some of Japan’s best snow but can also bring unbeatable conditions for skiing and snowboarding. When the blizzards that bring the legendary deep powder have cleared, visibility tends to be better than in western Hokkaido, and riders will have an easier time navigating the slopes; surfing through stashes of powder whilst taking in stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

Milder temperatures are another attraction of Nagano ski resorts. It does get cold in Nagano but the average temperature in January is only -4°C on the mountain. While weather is always unpredictable, especially with today’s changing climate, Nagano ski resorts often provide the dream combination of great snow conditions without the extremities or frost bites inducing bitterness that can be experienced further north – perfect if you want to get your gloves off to snap those holiday pics!

4. Accessibility

Thanks to well-developed transportation networks, most Nagano ski resorts are easily reachable from Tokyo and other major cities in Japan, including Nagoya and Osaka. Nagano City is only 90 minutes away from Tokyo Station on the Hokuriku Shinkansen, from where you can take the bus to your destined resort. Alternatively, you can hop on one of the Nagano Snow Shuttle’s coaches from Narita or Haneda Airport that will bring you to the central bus station of each ski area.

Our favourite way to get to the ski areas of Nagano from Tokyo or its airports is with private transfers – the driver will take you directly to the steps of your accommodation and all you have to do is kick back and relax. We’d rather save our energy for the slopes than to spend it on lugging our bags across the stations! Our team of local experts are more than happy to arrange this for you as part of your Japan ski package so get in touch to be a step closer to the winter holiday of your dream.

Nagano ski resorts’ proximity to Tokyo also make them ideal candidates for your Japan’s winter holiday as you can pair the ski trip with other sightseeing and cultural explorations on Honshu. Talk about killing two (or multiple) birds with one stone!

5. Wide range of accommodation

There is something for every type of traveller and budget range at the main Nagano ski resorts, from backpacker hostels, pensions and lodges to five-star hotels. If you are looking for a holiday of ultimate comfort, look no further than Hakuba. The resort offers an expansive portfolio of luxury accommodation with top-notch facilities and exceptional service, including ski-in ski-out hotels, chalets and apartments. Get ready to be pampered and have the ski holiday of a lifetime!

6. Cuisine

Abundant in mineral-rich soil and with favourable climate, Nagano produces some of Japan’s best agricultural products, and this is reflected by the food choices offered at every Nagano ski resort – fresh, nutritious, and full of flavours.

Fresh water flowing from the mountain tops every spring contributes to the prefecture’s production of buckwheat and the regional shinshu soba is highly prized across Japan. You can find delicious and fulfilling soba dishes at any ski resort in Nagano for as low as JPY 1,000! For ramen enthusiasts, you will find miso ramen at almost every ramen store in Nagano, which is no surprise considering that Nagano is the leading producer of miso in the whole of Japan (40% of Japan’s total). The silky and hearty broth is perfect to warm you up on a cold winter day!

Foodies looking for a diverse culinary scene will be satisfied with Hakuba’s excellent restaurants, cafes and bars. From traditional Japanese dishes to Italian or French fusion, Hakuba has something for everyone. Check out our Hakuba restaurant guide for a quick overview of the dining establishments in the resort.

7. Cultural heritage

A visit to one of Nagano ski resorts provides the perfect opportunity to learn more about the prefecture’s deep historic and cultural heritage.

The modern-day Nagano City was originally a temple town which grew around the great Zenkoji Temple, one of Japan’s most important Buddhist temples. Founded in the 7th century, the temple stores Japan’s oldest buddha statue which was brought into the country in the 6th century. To the west of the city, Togakushi Shrine complex opens up a pathway to Japanese mythology while the nearby Kids Ninja Village offers great fun for families with young children. Major Nagano ski resorts including Hakuba and Shiga Kogen are connected with Nagano City via frequent buses, making this a popular day trip destination.

For riders based in Hakuba, take the chance to visit Matsumoto City, an hour south of the resort. There you will find Matsumoto Castle, Japan’s oldest surviving castle tower dating back to the 16th century. Art lovers should not miss Matsumoto City Museum of Art where a Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition is on permanent display.

8. Winter attractions

Winter is an excellent time to visit Nagano, not only for its amazing ski resorts but also for various fascinating winter attractions.

There’s a good chance that you have heard about Japan’s snow monkeys who love to bathe in hot springs in the winter, and guess where is the best place to see them? None other than Nagano, specifically at Jigokudani Monkey Park! Shiga Kogen is the closest resort to the park, being only 10km away, but you can visit the park with ease from other resorts as well. From Hakuba, we highly recommend joining a full day tour, which we can offer to book as part of your Hakuba ski holiday and includes an English-speaking guide, transportation for the day, entry fees, lunch, and also a visit to the aforementioned Zenkoji Temple.

If you are into festivals and find yourself in Nagano in mid-January, head north to Nozawa Onsen to observe the majestic Dosojin Fire Festival and join the locals to pray for good fortunes and dispel the evil spirits. Hakuba also has its own Happo Fire Festival in mid-February, featuring a torch run, traditional taiko drum performance, fire dance, and fireworks. 

9. Onsen

If onsen is your favourite post-ski activity, you are in for a treat! You will find incredible natural hot springs at most Nagano ski resorts, giving you the opportunity to rejuvenate after a long day on the slopes whilst enjoying the grand mountain views. Nozawa Onsen has the highest concentration of onsen with more than 30 natural hot springs and 13 public baths. Do note that most of the onsens here are very traditional, therefore you might not be able to enter if you have tattoos. Hot springs in Hakuba are more open to tatted skins and you can find at least one in every resort in Hakuba Valley

Not sure what to do if it is your first time going to an onsen? We got you – our onsen etiquette guide provides a comprehensive guidance to first-timers. Love hot springs but want a private experience? Some onsen in Hakuba offer private baths and there are many chalets with private baths for you to choose from.

10. Family friendly

With approximately 75% of the ski runs being beginner to intermediate and a good number of kids parks, Nagano ski resorts are superb winter holiday destinations for families with children who are looking to progress. Apart from the main courses, ski runs in Nagano tend to be very quiet so you won’t need to worry about bumping into other people and your kids will get to practice at their own paces. Plentiful snow also means the runs are more cushioned – it won’t hurt too badly if they do fall! Kids aged 3 and above can join English ski and snowboard lessons, offered in several major Nagano ski resorts, including Hakuba and Shiga Kogen. The lessons are tailored to children so don’t be surprised when they shred the pow better than you in no time!

As mentioned earlier, favourable weather makes it much easier for the kids to be out on the slopes for longer, and they will be more than excited to ride the shinkansen or see the adorable snow monkeys. Happy kids equal less stress and more relaxation – a win-win situation for everyone!

If your little ones are too young to join you on the slopes, rest assured – most ski areas have child care services available so they will be in good hands when you are out exploring all the greatness of Nagano ski resorts.


While many Nagano ski resorts are excellent options for an unforgettable Japan winter holiday, Hakuba Valley is our top pick for its accessibility, landscape and level of services. If you are looking for an epic ski holiday in Hakuba, get in touch with our teams of local experts to score the best deals on accommodation and resort services!


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